I am obsessed with sharing yoga with the world. Why? Because it is free, can be done anywhere, anytime and, of course, yoga offers life-changing benefits. Some of these benefits you’ll notice immediately, others take time. Here are some of my favorites along with some tips and insights.
Boosts Brain Power
The Western science has finally started to validate the brain boosting abilities of yoga. Many studies are confirming that yoga improves focus, reaction time, memory and even problem solving.
· Research led by Neha Gothe showed that people have better focus and are able to take in, retain and use information more effectively after only 20 minutes of yoga versus 20 minutes of aerobic exercise
· Research led by health insurance giant, Aetna, showed that employees who participated in the free yoga and meditation programs at work increased efficiency significantly to the tune of $3,000 per person, per year
This is a more obvious benefit. Balance stimulates the mind and body leading to greater strength, coordination and ability to focus. This is critical as we age since it reduces risk of injuries related to falls or other balance-related issues.
Yoga provides the time and habits to check in with the mind, body and soul, individually, as well as have a deeper understanding of their connection. Some days I start my practice and notice that my legs are incredibly tense, or that something feels off in my back. Had I not gotten on my mat, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed. In our busy lives, it’s easy to gloss over these little signals from the body until they become larger issues. Beyond the physical, when going deeper into breath work or exploring the chakras, we begin to probe the mind and, should you decide, the soul for signals.
Poor posture plagues the modern world, causing pain, fatigue and other degenerative issues. A solid yoga practice can counteract and reverse some of the issues caused by poor posture.
· Your head is heavy, in many ways, it’s like a bowling ball sitting on top of your spine. When we sit with proper posture, the body uses less energy to support the head, however if we are hunched over or leaning too far back, lots of energy goes to supporting the head, causing fatigue. Who knew your poor posture could be the culprit behind your afternoon crash at work?
· A muscle called the psoas shortens when you sit for long periods of time. When it shortens, it pulls the small of your back forward and causes lower back pain. Luckily, this can be counteracted with a solid yoga practice. Some great postures for stretching the psoas are back bends and lunges.
Promotes Cartilage and Joint Health
Learning how yoga impacts the joints rocked my world. When we think about nutrition we often think of consuming, however, many parts of our body need movement in order to be replenished, especially your cartilage. The best metaphor I’ve come across is from the Yoga Journal. It suggests that you think of your cartilage like a sponge, in order for newness to come in, the old must be squeezed out. This squeezing and soaking keeps the joints healthy and full. On the flip side, if you do not squeeze and soak your joints on a regular basis they can become dehydrated and begin to wear down. This is much like the soles of your shoes, when the joints wear down too thin, joint pain and other degenerative issues ensue. An asana practice has various movements and stretches which squeeze and soak your joints. In case this sounds overwhelming, fear not, I will be sharing a simple, 10-minute joint replenishing practice in the asana section of this book.
Does Wonders for The Back
There are so many great benefits to the spine from a consistent yoga practice! A common-sense benefit is that yoga stretches the back, this not only creates more space between the vertebrae, but it also feeds the joints in the spine via the squeeze and soak method, keeping spinal discs nice and healthy. Another wonderful benefit is that yoga strengthens the muscles in the back which helps to support the body and removes some of the stress from the bones to hold everything in place. Of course, many back problems come from poor posture and tight muscles. Yoga brings awareness to proper posture and loosens up muscles so that there is not any unnatural strain to the vertebrae. What’s even more interesting is that studies are emerging that suggest we may not completely understand how the health of the spine impacts other parts of the body. Some research even suggest that spinal flexibility is directly related to healthy arteries, and as Thomas Sydenham would say, “a man is as old as his arteries”.
Keeps Bones Healthy
All weight bearing exercises send signals to the body that bone health is a priority, so vinyasa and other more rigorous styles of yoga are beneficial in this way. A lesser known way to keep bones healthy is to manage your stress. When you’re stressed your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is known to disrupt bone formation, leading to a decrease in bone density. Yoga and meditation have been shown, time and time again, to be one of the most effective methods to keep stress, and consequently cortisol, in check. Of course, holistically there are other benefits. Flexibility and healthy joints all play their part is keeping the bodies infrastructure in top condition.
Flexibility takes time, so don’t try to force yourself into an insta-glamourous split right away. To safely get into advanced postures you’ll need to strengthen the body as well as provide the right signals to the brain. Strengthening the body will aid in avoiding injury. As for the mental side of things, the brain sends signals to the body to STOP when it encounters a new edge in a stretch. The edge, or the edge of active resistance should be the goal in postures, you don’t want to go past it, nor do you want to avoid it if your goal is to increase flexibility. The brain’s STOP signal is a good thing, since it protects us from going too far. Listen to the mind when you feel that your reaching a stopping point but also respond with a steady breath. Deep slow breaths send signals to the nervous system that everything is okay and may convince your brain to let you go a little deeper. Overall flexibility takes time and consistency, so don’t give up if you feel like you’re not “flexible enough for yoga” at first.
For those of you who feel super-flexible and do not have that loud STOP signal from the brain, practice in the morning when your muscles are not warmed up. You should feel more in tune with your body during this time of day, allowing you to practice with increased awareness.
· Tight hips can cause alignment issues with the thighs and strain the knees
· Tight hamstrings can pull on the lower spine causing back pain
· Over lack of flexibility contributes to poor posture which opens a whole other can of issues
Increases Muscle Strength
Disclaimer, I have never been a fan of lifting weights. It wasn’t until finding yoga that I began to notice muscle tone throughout my body. The answer is YES you can absolutely get into great shape through a yoga practice. I will make sure to highlight the muscle groups worked in each posture later on in this book so that you have a deeper understanding of the anatomy behind each pose.
A major benefit of building strength through a yoga practice is that you will also be increasing your awareness, balance and flexibility at the same time, reducing the chance of injury and increasing overall vitality.
· Building core, back and even glute strength helps support the spine creating an overall healthier back, and in many cases, preventing back pain and reducing risk of injury
Some additional Benefits!
Stimulates Blood Flow / Circulation
Boosts immune system / Drains Lymphatic System
Promotes Heart Health
Reduces Blood Pressure
Regulates Adrenal Glands
Strengthens Left Prefrontal Cortex (associated w/ happiness)
Releases Muscle Tension
Enhances Lung Function
Can Help Fight Substance Abuse
Can Help Reduce Chronic Pain
Promotes Emotional Health
Still have more questions? Contact Courtney on Instagram @Couryoga